Tel Jezreel and Jezreel Spring
Tel Jezreel (pronounced Yizra'el in Hebrew) is located on a rocky spur at the foothills of the Gilboa Mountain range. It was the main fortress of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BCE. Archeological digs have been carried out on the tel, but there is nothing really to see there. However, the tel does offer wonderful views over the eastern Jezreel Valley. You can also take a short, easy hike down to the Jezreel Spring in the Jezreel Valley. You may well be walking on the very path that King Ahab took when visiting Naboth’s vineyard!
The Jezreel Valley received this name because of the Jezreel fortress located on the side of the valley. This fortress overlooked the Via Maris, an important highway in the valley that connected Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. The fortress was also adjacent to a major north-south road that connected Jerusalem to the Galilee via Ganim (Jenin).
Jezreel was one of the main residences of the kings of Israel. Ahab’s father Omri built the city of Samaria as the southern capital of the northern Israelite Kingdom, while Jezreel may have been his northern capital. The fortress contained the main Israelite chariot force. We know from Assyrian inscriptions that Ahab participated in a battle against the Assyrians with a significant force of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers.
HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO THE JEZREEL SPRING
Time: Just under an hour there and back.
Distance: 2 Km there and back.
Type of hike: Same way there and back.
Difficulty: Easy walking along a gravel path with some stone steps. The incline is not particularly steep.
Directions: Enter “Tel Jezreel” into Waze. This will bring you to the parking lot.
Admission: There is no admission charge, no brochure, and no facilities such as WC’s.
Hidden by the eucalyptus grove are the spring, pool, picnic tables, camping places and parking lot.
A HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO THE JEZREEL SPRING
From the parking lot take the trail to a sign displaying the Biblical account of Naboth’s murder (in Hebrew). Then continue to the Observation Point.
At the Observation Point is a sign with the distances to what you are viewing. Ahead of you (to the north), on the far side of the Jezreel Valley, is the Hill of Moreh (Givat HaMoreh). Moshav Merhavia and Kibbutz Merhavia are in front of and to the west (left ) of this hill, and the Arab town of Sulam (known in the Bible as Shumen) is at its foot. The city of Afula is to the west in the valley, and north of this, in the hills of the Galilee, is the city of Nazareth. The pool from the Jezreel Spring in the valley is hidden from your view because of the eucalyptus grove in front of you.
The blue-marked trail then turns down the hill. As you descend you will see a eucalyptus grove in front of you.
At the base of the hill pass through the open gate and continue straight ahead through the field.
At the edge of the field turn right to the pool. In the center of the pool are the ruins of a house. There are picnic benches here, places for camping and a parking lot. At the time of the ancient northern Israelite kingdom, this spring would have been protected by the lower city of Jezreel.
Return to your car the way you came.
The Biblical account of Naboth and his vineyard is a fascinating story about three systems of ethics in relation to the power of monarchy. One system is the usual one for that historic period. Kings were given power by the gods, and they could do whatever they could get away with. This accounts for the many battles of the superpower empires for dominion that characterized this period. Diametrically opposed to this was monotheism and the Torah system of ethics promoted by the prophets of Israel, such as Elijah. A king was never above the law. Additional restrictions were even imposed on the king by the Torah to limit his power, such as the prohibition of having too many wives and too many horses (for chariots). Then there was the hybrid system of the Northern Israelite Kingdom. Culturally it was Jewish and it sometimes held by Torah ethics. However, it was also open to the surrounding cultures and frequently embraced paganism.
King Ahab was set up by his father Omri to become one of the most powerful monarchs in the region. Omri sealed an alliance with the important state of Phoenicia by marrying his son to the daughter of the Phoenician king who was called Jezebel. As did Solomon, Ahab built a temple to Baal for his queen so she could worship her gods. Sensing Israel’s ambivalence with respect to monotheism, this strong-willed woman pushed for the worship of Baal Melqart, the deity of Tyre, to become the dominant form of worship in her husband’s kingdom. She attempted to eliminate the prophets of God and supported financially 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. This led to a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and Elijah killing them all. This was not enough, however, to curb Jezebel’s power and overcome Ahab’s ambivalence.
Adjacent to Ahab’s palace in Jezreel was Naboth's vineyard and Ahab wanted to make it into a vegetable garden. Ahab offered him a replacement of even greater worth or an outright sale. Naboth refused both saying: “God forbid that I should give to you what I have inherited from my fathers” (1 Kings 21:4). Naboth was well within his rights to say this since according to Biblical law, land in Israel was not to be sold in perpetuity but had to be returned to its tribal owner (Leviticus 25:23). When Jezebel found out how upset her husband was, she made arrangements for him to obtain the vineyard. She sent letters to the elders and officials of the city to find two false witnesses to accuse Naboth of blaspheming the monotheistic God and the king, and following Biblical law he was stoned. In this situation, normal inheritance would be bypassed and his estate would go to the king. Ahab deliberately turned a blind eye to what his wife was doing and thereby became an accomplice.
Elijah the prophet was told by God to confront Ahab with the famous words “Have you murdered and then inherited?” (I Kings 21:19). Elijah prophesied that measure for measure, Ahab and his queen would die, as would all his dynasty and their blood would be lapped up by the dogs.
Ahab repented and his punishment was delayed. Nevertheless, he died three years later in battle and the blood from his chariot was lapped up by the dogs at the pool of Samaria. Elijah’s successor Elisha encouraged Jehu, one of Ahab’s generals, to carry out a palace coup. He killed Ahab’s son and successor King Yoram, killed all of Ahab's many other sons, and killed Jezebel. He also killed all the Baal worshippers in the kingdom.
Interestingly, indicators of a nearby winery have been found in the valley just south of the town of Jezreel, including rock cut vats and a treading floor. But other than its suggestive location just south of Kibbutz Jezreel, there is no evidence linking it to Naboth.